Dual Degree Nursing Programs: How Do They Work?

Updated December 6, 2022

Earning a dual nursing degree online can increase nurses' professional marketability and earning potential through diversifying their skill set.
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Dual degree nursing programs allow nurses to earn two postgraduate degrees that open them up to more leadership and administrative roles within healthcare. While a single graduate degree may offer opportunities in clinical leadership roles, nurses with dual graduate degrees become candidates for top executive healthcare roles including healthcare administrator, chief nursing officer, and nurse director.

These programs typically combine a master of science in nursing (MSN) with an additional master's degree in another area of study. The main options for nurses include an MSN coupled with a master of business administration (MBA), master of healthcare administration (MHA), master of public health (MPH), or master of public administration (MPA).

Detailed throughout this guide is an overview of dual degree programs and a summary of the various dual degree options available to nurses.

How Do Dual Degree Nursing Programs Work?

Dual degrees in nursing combine two areas of study into one program, allowing the student to complete two master's degrees at the same time. Unlike double majors, dual degree programs include a larger body of coursework. The student earns two degrees rather than one in two areas of study. These programs often are more rigorous due to the additional academic requirements.

Although credits need to be earned toward both degrees, most programs allow students to double count certain courses. This allows students to use one course to satisfy requirements for both degrees, shortening the length of the program.

A typical master's program can take two years to complete, but students who can complete a dual degree program on a full-time basis can earn both degrees in almost the same amount of time.

For nurses who are unable to commit to a full-time program, there are part-time, online, and hybrid programs that allow students to continue working while earning these advanced degrees. These options can make dual degree programs possible for more professionals.

Featured Online MSN Programs

Can You Complete a Dual Degree Nursing Program Online?

Most online nursing programs offer clinical and lab opportunities to in-state distance learners with flexible hours that fit their schedules. Students attending school out of state may complete their clinical or nursing internship experience through online laboratory simulations.

Finally, some online schools have agreements with colleges in other states, allowing distance learners from around the country to complete clinical requirements at participating schools.

Some online dual degree nursing programs may offer consolidated lab experiences. By consolidating labs, distance learners can travel to fulfill in-person clinical requirements over the course of only a few days a semester.

Types of Dual Degree Nursing Programs

There are several dual degree programs available for nurses who want to pursue various roles within the healthcare industry. To take advantage of these programs, most require their applicants to have already earned a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), hold an active registered nurse (RN) license, and have clinical experience.

With these requirements, RNs can choose a program that works with their experience in another area of healthcare such as business administration, healthcare administration, public health, and public administration.

MSN/MBA Dual Degree

Earning an MSN/MBA dual degree typically consists of three years of study. It results in both an MBA and master's in nursing. In this program, students may seek skills in clinical nursing with a background in business, or they may desire a career in healthcare management and/or consulting.

Classwork is the same as degrees for business or nursing.

  • Admission Requirements: While program admission requirements may slightly vary from one institution to the next, most require the following: an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a BSN from an accredited program, at least two years of clinical nursing experience, a valid RN license, and a personal statement.

    Most programs also require a National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) score of 85% or higher.
  • Time to Complete: Most MSN/MBA dual degree programs take about three years on a full-time basis. Completing the program on a part-time basis can take four or more years. Online and hybrid programs are available for those who need more flexible scheduling.
  • Credits Required: Requirements can vary among schools. Some programs require as few as 51 credits, while others require upwards of 75. Students must also typically complete between 150-300 clinical hours before graduation.
  • Career Opportunities: Nurses with an MBA may serve either in a clinical or administrative management role. Some of the most common career options include director of compliance, care management, disease management, surgical service, or case management.

MSN/MHA Dual Degree

A dual MSN/MHA equips graduates with a master's degree in nursing and healthcare administration. This degree provides specialized training in leadership, operations, and financial management. Organizational behavior, law, and ethics of healthcare policies are also taught.

An MSN represents one of the best degrees for expert-level, patient-centered care, while an MHA might fit those looking to advance administrative practices in healthcare. Graduates of a dual MSN/MHA are prepared for executive-level administrative roles in any healthcare facility.

  • Admission Requirements: Prospective students must already hold an BSN from an accredited program and an active RN license. They will also need an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and typically at least one year of clinical experience. Transcripts, letters of reference, and a personal statement are common requirements.
  • Time to Complete: For those who can attend classes on a full-time basis, some programs may only take 18 months to complete. Most average anywhere between 3-5 years, which includes the required clinical practicum. Part-time completion of the program extends its length.
  • Credits Required: The credit hours needed to earn an MSN/MHA dual degree range from 50-65, with most requiring 60. Students earning each degree separately may need 70 or more credits for each.
  • Career Opportunities: After earning an MSN/MHA dual degree, nurses can pursue one of the following careers: nurse administrator, nurse educator, director of nursing, healthcare consultant, or nurse manager.

MSN/MPH Dual Degree

An MSN/MPH dual degree targets those who desire a master's in nursing and public health. This degree covers advanced topics in clinical nursing, nursing theory, and healthcare services for low- and high-risk populations.

Graduates develop healthcare service plans for public and private sectors. They also learn advanced management for careers as directors of public healthcare facilities and programs.

  • Admission Requirements: Admission into an MSN/MPH dual degree program requires applicants to have a BSN from an accredited institution, an unencumbered RN license, a GPA around 3.0 or higher, letters of reference, and a personal statement.

    Some programs also require specific prerequisite courses and GRE scores for applicants with less than five years of healthcare experience.
  • Time to Complete: If attending full time, students can complete the program in 18 months. But most take around 2-3 years, which includes the required clinical experience needed to graduate.
  • Credits Required: Most programs require a range of credit hours between 60-90. Completing the degrees separately would require more credit hours, but dual degree programs can double count credits toward both degrees. This can allow students to finish in less time and with fewer classes.
  • Career Opportunities: Upon completion of an MSN/MPH dual degree program, graduates can fill one of the following roles: clinical nurse specialist, adult or pediatric nurse practitioners, community/public health nurse, community health director, or clinical nurse researcher.

MSN/MPA Dual Degree

Graduates with an MSN/MPA earn a master's degree in nursing and public administration. This online dual degree nursing program targets nurses who want to manage a nonprofit or public organization related to nursing and healthcare.

Students learn how to manage government programs and carry out institutional change. Coursework typically includes classes in nonprofit finance, human resources, law, ethics, and communication.

  • Admission Requirements: Applicants must have already earned a BSN, finished their previous academic program with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and have a valid RN license. They must submit a personal statement and reference letters.
  • Time to Complete: Students who attend classes full time can finish the program within two years. For those who can only complete the program part time, it could take up to three or four years depending upon the number of classes taken each semester.
  • Credits Required: MSN/MPA programs typically take between 50-60 credits to complete.
  • Career Opportunities: Graduates can fill clinical or administrative roles upon earning a dual MSN/MPA degree. Graduates can find employment opportunities in the following areas: nursing research, economic analysis and public policy, labor management relations, and health promotion and disease prevention.

Is a Dual Degree Nursing Program Right for Me?

To figure out if a dual degree nursing program makes sense for you, you should first evaluate your current situation and consider any professional goals you still wish to accomplish.

With most programs taking two years with full-time study (four years for part-time), consider if the time commitment is worth the benefit of having two advanced degrees. Participating in a dual degree program is more cost-effective than focusing on one degree at a time. For those who want to advance their education as much as possible, completing the programs simultaneously will help lower the overall cost.

Completing a dual degree program can help you maximize your ability to secure a leadership role within the healthcare industry. It also sets you apart from others by showcasing that your knowledge extends into many different fields, making your credentials stand out.

Dual degree programs can be a cost-effective and timely benefit for nurses who wish to continue their education.

Page last reviewed February 23, 2022

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